According to tradition, tangata whenua are kaitiaki of the environment within their rohe. Many councils and other authorities who have encouraged their staff to build positive working relationships with tangata whenua in this context have successfully managed to explore and find contemporary expressions of kaitiakitanga. Others have yet to do so. The understanding of kaitiakitanga can vary from council to council, which can be an immediate challenge to moving forwards.

Councils have legal powers and responsibilities for the management of natural and physical resources. If you are unable to have input into their decisions, protecting many of the places and taonga valued by your people will be an uphill battle.

Participation - the bigger picture

This guide focuses on how you can participate in the resource consent process. Tangata whenua need to recognise that resource consents are part of a wider system of planning and allocating financial resources at the regional and local levels. To have maximum impact, you must participate in this broader planning process.

An example of where you can have a greater impact is in the development of national policy statements, national environmental standards, regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans. Having involvement at this higher level can help ensure that te ao Māori is expressed within these planning documents.

The broader process includes the following elements.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA)

The RMA controls how people can use natural and physical resources - land and buildings, water, air, plants, animals and the coast.

It does this in two main ways. First, the RMA encourages councils to prepare regional policy statements and regional and districtplans which cover how resources are used. These plans set out whether permission (resource consent) is required from the council before a resource is used and, if so, what the council considers relevant when deciding whether that permission should be granted. Councils are required to consult tangata whenua when they are developing and changing plans.

Second, the RMA provides for a system of granting resource consents. This system includes detailed processes (including the preparation of assessments of effects on the environment and opportunities for public participation) that must be followed by councils when receiving, considering and deciding on applications.

Iwi management plans

Iwi management plans can play an important part in managing resources through the RMA. The RMA recognises that iwi management plans can be a critical part of being effective in resource consent processes. To ensure that councils can take into account iwi management plans, they must be made aware of their existence and significance.

The Ministry for the Environment has published a useful guide to developing iwi management plans (Te Raranga a Mahi, August 2000). Download load it from the publications section on the Ministry website ( or contact the publications team on (04) 917 7506 (24-hour answerphone).

Local Government Act 2002

The Local Government Act 2002 controls what councils do. It provides a broad mandate for councils to get involved in a wide range of issues, including cultural and environmental issues.

However, to become involved a council needs the backing of its community. It achieves this by preparing long term council community plans (LTCCPs) through a public consultation process. LTCCPs, together with annual plans, ensure that ratepayers' money is devoted to the right things with a long term view in mind. These plans are important for tangata whenua because they can ensure that resources are devoted to supporting tangata whenua in various ways - including tangata whenua participation in resource management.

Tangata whenua and the RMA: a special relationship

The Crown acknowledges the special relationship that tangata whenua have with the environment, which is expressed through whakapapa, pūrākau, whakataukī, pepeha, waiata and in many other ways that reflect this relationship. The Crown acknowledges that these special relationships are not privileges, but rather the expression of rights that were secured between the Crown and rangatira Māori when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

This relationship is recognised through the RMA, giving tangata whenua a special position in resource management. Through various sections the RMA recognises:

  • the importance of places and resources of value to tangata whenua
  • the potential value of kaitiakitanga as a way of managing resources (including the specific means of iwi management plans)
  • the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, including the notion of good faith consultation
  • the legitimacy of consultation with tangata whenua in policy-making affecting the use of resources.

Although many people have an opportunity to participate in RMA processes, the position of tangata whenua as a partner to the Treaty is reflected in opportunities for participation that are emphasised more strongly.

Tangata whenua and resource consents

The RMA recognises that the relationship tangata whenua have with the environment is a fundamental cornerstone of their identity as a people. In doing so, the resource consent process provides a key mechanism for the protection of tangata whenua values. There are opportunities in the process that provide for tangata whenua to actively seek the protection of their taonga.

However, this is an imperfect process and success lies not only in the use of the process but in other factors as well. For example, the relationship with the local council is important, as is the willingness of the council to explore mutually acceptable solutions with tangata whenua, and overcoming the resourcing issues faced by tangata whenua in discharging their responsibilities as kaitiaki and as Treaty partners.


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